Earlier this week, a friend of mine named Bill reminded me that the holidays are not always joyful. Bill lost his wife to cancer a few years ago, and as much as he doesn’t intend for it to happen, the holidays remind him of what he’s lost. In those moments, it’s hard to give thanks. Bill’s encouragement struck a chord with me because, honestly, I’m guilty of overlooking other’s pain. Even worse, I try to combat it with positivity. But sometimes, positivity and inspiration need to take a back seat to being present with people in the midst of their pain.
Whether it’s a broken marriage, a fresh diagnosis or the sadness of losing a loved one, the holidays have a way of tearing open tender wounds. Instead of covering these moments with well-intended platitudes, this is a challenge to join others in their mourning.
And sometimes that’s a lot closer to home than we realize.
Joy in Spite of Pain
I was too young to remember my cousin Stevie, but I fondly remember his portrait hanging in the hallway of my aunt and uncle’s home. He was a good-looking kid with a big smile who displayed maturity well beyond his years. From stories, I’ve learned that he was very protective and affectionate toward me when I was a child, but I would never have the opportunity to know him.
On a cool, autumn morning, November 23, 1984, Stevie was tragically killed in a hunting accident. He was only eleven years old. I’ve known Stevie’s story for years and I’ve seen firsthand the pain that it has caused his mother, my Aunt Debbie. But truthfully, I’ve never let it sink in. I suppose it was the encouragement from Bill mixed with thoughts of my own children that caused me to weep this year.
I called Aunt Debbie to let her know that I was thinking about her and how grateful I was for her testimony and her strength. Her resilience and faith in spite of her pain are remarkable—she is one of the strongest women I know. I felt a tenderness in her voice as we talked. As we ended the conversation she said, “You know, Matt, in an odd way it gets harder as I get older. I just hope that somehow, through my pain, it may bring someone joy.”
No worries, Aunt Debbie, it already has.
The night before Stevie died, he had one final conversation with his mom. They wouldn’t be spending Thanksgiving together because Stevie was with his father. Understanding his mom’s sadness he comforted her, “Mom, I don’t want you to worry about me. Jesus will take care of me.”
Less than twenty-four hours later, Stevie would be together with Jesus.
Earlier that year, Stevie had accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. In the wake of his death, the family found strength and assurance in those final words from this sweet, tender, eleven-year old boy. Jesus was taking care of him—the promise of joy, even in the midst of pain.
Trading Beauty for Ashes
I’m grateful for Bill’s encouragement as well as my Aunt Debbie’s testimony. They remind me of the example we all have in Jesus. God joined us in the midst of our pain to ultimately bring about our joy.
This Thanksgiving, I will pause and embrace the moment and the people before me. I challenge you to do the same. Be available to those who are mourning. In doing so, I’m hopeful that it will bring joy.
As the prophet Isaiah wrote and foretold of the coming of Messiah:
“The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn, to give them beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” —Isaiah 61
The true spirit of Christianity is becoming the example to others that Jesus has been for us. This is our greatest form of evangelism. May we join them in their mourning and in doing so, may it exhibit the very Spirit of God. He is ultimately the only hope we have for turning pain into joy and mourning into gladness. That is why we can always give thanks, even in the midst of pain.